Illegal-alien patrols gaining fans
TUCSON, Ariz. – The Minuteman Project was launched earlier this year amid fears that racist extremists would confront and possibly injure illegal immigrants crossing into Arizona.But there were no significant confrontations – no fights, and rarely any excitement – when hundreds of people traveled to the Arizona desert during April to watch for border crossers and report them to immigration agents.Since then the movement has taken hold, with Minuteman-inspired organizations being launched in several states, and even critics acknowledge the participants are more than just a band of misfits, bigots and extremists.Attention surrounding immigration problems helped attract “a fairly broad cross-section of middle Americans,” said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which monitors hate groups. “This is partly driven by politicians falling all over each other over an issue that they feel had some real resonance.”Potok said that, according to his group’s research, “there are real strains of racism and anti-Semitism in this movement.
“Nevertheless,” he said, “the movement has attracted people who are not Klansmen or neo-Nazis.”‘We mean business’The Minuteman Project was the brainchild of Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Orange County, Calif., and an unsuccessful congressional candidate there, who recruited participants through the Internet. He tied his efforts to an existing group, Civil Homeland Defense, which was already patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border.The idea, according to project organizers, was partly to draw attention to problems on the Arizona-Mexico border, the most porous stretch of the 2,000-mile southern border.The group said about 900 people showed up for the April monitoring project. School teachers and retired veterans, businessmen and former corporate executives, some of them armed, parked their pickup trucks and even RVs along a dusty, rutted border road near Naco, Ariz., sitting in lawn chairs with binoculars to look for anyone trying to slip illegally into the country.Organizers said the volunteers’ calls helped lead authorities to about 330 illegal immigrants; critics say the group was little more than a nuisance.
In October, still more volunteers repeated the exercise in other states on the Mexican and Canadian borders.Chris Simcox, one of the movement’s co-founders, said three dozen new chapters had formed by mid-November, “with another 100 waiting in the wings, for us to come up with a national strategy.””It has moved into politics on the local, state and federal level, what we hope is in every district in this country,” Simcox said. “We mean business.”Organizing requests have come from all 50 states, said Minuteman spokeswoman Connie Hair. Some groups focus on internal vigilance, such as an operation that uses volunteers with cameras to document people hiring illegal immigrants.xDan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates limits on immigration, said the Minuteman Project reflects a visceral reaction to the “national intrusion” by illegal immigrants.
“There’s a genuineness to this that has won over the hearts and minds of the American public,” Stein said.Celestino Fernandez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, said it is the latest iteration of this country’s history of reaction and resistance to waves of immigration – first to an influx of Chinese immigrants and later to people from southern and eastern Europe.”They’re reasonable people, yes, they’re good people, but they’re also reacting against demographic changes, just like every prior generation has reacted against demographic changes of people whom they perceive as different,” he said.The Minutemen see Latinos everywhere – “more in their states, whether it’s the South or the Midwest or East or New York City,” Fernandez said. “There are more Mexicans in the country. They keep reading about the border and it’s like a sieve – people coming across, and aren’t they going to control it, and the government’s not doing anything.”Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, Calif., who spent five nights on watch along the Arizona border in early April and now heads the California chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said that support for the Minuteman organizations is growing among political groups, citing in particular Republican women’s organizations.”They’re so angry at the president and his shenanigans that they’re celebrating people like myself and Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist,” Donnelly said. “They see our movement as perhaps their only and last bastion of hope.””Illegal immigration doesn’t cause every problem,” Donnelly added, “but it exacerbates many other issues.”
—On the Net:Minuteman Project: http://www.minutemanhq.com/project/Federation for American Immigration Reform: http://www.fairus.org/Southern Poverty Law Center: http://www.splcenter.org/index.jspNational Immigration Forum: http://www.immigrationforum.org/